UPDATE: We're looking for some inspiration on this frigid afternoon, and we found it in this red-hot duo — they're definitely worth taking a second look. This story was originally published on November 8.
Meet Natalie and Elliot Bergman, the genetically blessed siblings behind the red-hot Chicago band, Wild Belle. Their retro, psychedelic-pop tunes, like "It's Too Late," have fans swooning all over the globe—the Windy City included. Not familiar with the dynamic duo? You will be soon. With a badass new music video and an album launch this spring, even wild horses couldn't keep these naturally born artists from stardom.
Despite an aggressive tour schedule (bonjour, Paris!), the Bergmans carved out some time to show off their fierce style. In our family-share photo shoot, Natalie and Elliot heat up the chilly shores of Northerly Island with rocker looks curated by stylist sis, Elise. Sporting a mix of vintage pieces and wares from local boutiques, the bro-sis team made Chicago's lakefront the coolest place to be, despite the cold. And, with the exception of one hot chocolate break, the twosome put on brave (okay, gorgeous) faces throughout the entire shoot. Now, that's what we call one heck of a performance.
Photographed by Brian Guido
What is the music and lyric process like? Do you collaborate on both?
N: "It’s different every time. Sometimes Elliot will play something on the organ, and we’ll record it, and then I’ll write lyrics to it. A lot of the songs on our upcoming record (entitled Isles, coming out early 2013) I brought into the studio as demos, but there are also a few songs that we wrote in the studio together."
On Natalie: Elise Bergman blouse, vintage Levi's shorts, Mackage jacket, shoes from a boutique in Sweden, and Shikama and Cheryl Dufault necklaces.
On Elliot: Opening Ceremony shirt, Shipley and Halmos blazer, vintage necklaces, Levi's jeans, and a vintage belt.
Tell us about your musical relationship with Elliot and how Wild Belle was incepted.
N: "Aside from growing up in the same house and listening to our parents' music together, we started to develop our own musical tastes and constantly shared records with each other. Elliot ventured into a world of jazz and turned me on to some amazingly informative artists. Some examples include Tom Zé, Miles Davis, Studio One's Delroy Wilson, Fela Kuti, and Pharaoh Sanders. These artists represent a combination of jazz, reggae, Tropicália, and Afro-pop that have influenced both of our sounds independently. I was listening to a lot of Astrud Gilberto — especially her early recordings with Stan Getz — Aretha Franklin, Aaliyah, and early Bob Marley. I think this blend of musical muses has really helped to define the Wild Belle sound. It's really exciting to write and record music with Elliot — someone who shares and has inspired so much of my musical history."
Tell us about your style.
E: "Our music style draws from different cultures — but everything comes through a rock and roll filter. I think that we both try to have a little bit of that in the way we look."
Elliot is wearing a Marc by Marc Jacobs peacoat and Elise Bergman scarf.
Elliot's Wolverine boots.
What was your first musical performance?
N: "I was playing a lot of violin, we would sing in church, and Elliot had numerous clarinet recitals and jazz band performances...it's hard to pinpoint the first time either of us got on stage. One memorable moment was in fifth grade when I signed up for the high school talent show, put on a leopard print cowboy hat, and belted out a Lucinda Williams song."
E: "But our first show together was the opening for Peter Bjorn and John at Shubas."
N: "That was kind of rough because we had been playing in different bands and had just recorded an album for a band that had no name — which turned into Wild Belle. So when we played in that show, we were trying to achieve what we did in the studio. Since then, we’ve really lived up to the record itself — exceeding it, actually. We keep on finding new sounds through our live performances."
E: "We played under the name of Rhunes for that show since we hadn't had an official name yet. We thought it had a nice Scandinavian flavor — perfect considering Peter Bjorn and John are from Sweden."
So where did the name Wild Belle come from?
N: "Elliot came up with it. Belle is my middle name."
Natalie sporting a Pamela Love ring and some killer vintage necklaces with a tribal-like appeal.
What was one of your most memorable shows?
E: "We just played a really cool festival in San Francisco called the Treasure Island Musical Festival. The people who organized it were really great and it was amazing to be right in the middle of the San Francisco bay looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge. There was also a great lineup of bands including The xx and M83."
Elliot is fit for the chilly lakefront in his Marc by Marc Jacobs peacoat.
Aside from your sister, who are some of your favorite designers?
N: "I don't necessarily keep an eye out for labels, but rather unusual patterns and interesting shapes. I have the best luck finding things I like in vintage shops. A few of my most coveted designer pieces come from my mom's closet. When I am looking for a cool and beautifully made piece in Chicago, I wander through Barneys, Roslyn, and Robin Richman. Some recent local finds include a Herkimer diamond Minerology necklace and a really groovy two-toned felt hat that Robin brought back from Ecuador."
What are your top five favorite albums?
N: "I could not begin to sum up the entirety of the world's music into just five favorite albums, so let's start with ten:"
1. Aretha Franklin — I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
2. Tom Zé — Estudando o Samba
3. The Velvet Underground — Loaded
4. Lauryn Hill — The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
5. Talking Heads — Speaking in Tongues
6. Joni Mitchell — Blue
7. The Police — Outlandos d'Amour
8. Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
9. Paul Simon — Graceland
10. Marvin Gaye — What's Going On
"Then, we're still missing Al Green, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Nirvana — there are too many amazing albums that exist in the universe!"
Natalie is wearing thrifted sweater dress (worn as shirt), Hache skirt
vintage fur stole (belonged to her great grandmother Susan— her initials are embroidered inside "S.T.P"), Cities in Dust cuff, and Fiorentini + Baker booties.
How do you generally dress for a show?
N: "The music I write is like an extension of my soul — which is how I feel about my wardrobe choices. I usually like to wear more color on stage because I like to give light and life to the audience."
A close-up look at Natalie's Fiorentini + Baker booties.
Who are your fashion muses?
N: "Kate Moss and Sun Ra. Moss is an exquisite beauty with a timeless face. She is able to maintain an edge with her classic rock and roll style. Sun Ra created all of his art believing that there was infinite inspiration and possibility within the universe. A lot of his musical and visual inspiration came from as far away a place as outer space. I want my music and style to reflect his attitude — constantly discovering value and beauty in my surroundings."
How do you spend your precious downtime?
N: "I try to write music, make collages — just make as much art as I possibly can while I have the space and time to do it."
E: "I also like to work. I feel like we are the most productive when we get off the road because our schedule isn't so blocked out — which makes it really hard to find spare time to do anything creative. So, when I'm home, I want to run to the piano, practice an instrument, exercise, etc. It's a great time to plant the seeds that can develop into something while you’re busy doing other things."
How many different instruments do you play?
E: "Two — ha. No, I play a lot."
N: "He plays everything. Live, he’s mostly been playing electric kalimba, the saxophone, and keyboards — but you really have to know about all of the different instruments if you want to have success as a traveling musician. Elliot...he understands."
You've got a killer voice. Are you trying to emulate anyone in particular, or are you crafting your own style?"
N: "I’ve grown into my sound — but I think it’s always been inside of me. As far as female vocalists that I enjoy listening to the most, I love Etta James and Astrud Gilberto, an amazing Brazilian woman who is married to singer and guitarist João Gilberto."
Tell us about your new "Backslider" video.
N: "I got the idea after finding my mom’s old projector and vacation slides in my apartment. I had my friend take some pictures with the slides projected on me and it hit me — I knew we had to make a video like this. My little brother came to town a few months ago and he filmed it and edited it for us. It was done rather quickly — and based on accidental inspiration."
When you are in Chicago, where do you like to go?
N: "There's a really cool place called Primitive Art Works. It carries a great archive of ancient African and indian Art and lots of cool artifacts. I also really love the Green Mill — especially on Thursday nights for the swing bands. They are always fun to just dance to."
E: "I love the Hideout. We play there a lot — most recently at their annual block party. Tim and Katy who run it are some of the most supportive people in the city."
On Natalie: vintage dress, Annie Costello Brown necklace, and a vintage Pendleton hat worn with A Détacher belt.
On Elliot: Rag & Bone jacket and a Steven Alan shirt.
What's is the hardest part about being in a band?
E: "It's really a life of roving around — we don’t get to settle down very often. While one of the great parts about it is the touring and the shows, you're constantly feeling displaced."
N: "But on the other hand, it’s so fun to travel around because we're seeing North America — and the world — like never before. It’s not like a vacation where you take a trip here and there. We're constantly moving from one city to the next, so being able to experience the world in that way is really cool."
What's on your iPod right now?
N: "I actually don't own an iPod — but I can tell you what CDs we listen to when we're on the road! We love Gillian Welch — especially her album Revival. Her lyricism is so emotional and compelling. Lots of Dylan. I have a stack of CDs that a guy I met on a flight to Denver sent me after we geeked out on Afrobeat music the entire flight. He used to work at Amoeba records and had access to a lot of rare psychedelic records, as well as some cool West African compilations. We've been jamming Ghana Soundz during our late night drives — it's music that makes your body move."
A detailed look at Natalie's booties from the boutique in Sweden.
Who is your go-to designer?
E: "I have a friend Siki Im who is really cool. All of his stuff is pretty avant-garde and just really beautiful — and it's made right in New York. He’s very kind and spiritual which is evident in the way he presents his clothing and ideas. He’s also an interesting person, so I’m always following what he does."
Did you ever think you’d wind up working together?
E: "Music was always a big part of our family, so it seems like we are right where we are supposed to be — it doesn’t feel like some foreign circumstance."
N: "I always knew I'd be doing something with music in some capacity, but never did I think I would be in a band with Elliot. I imagined all sorts of other things, so this is just a cool present. It’s a great gift that we were given. I couldn’t imagine anything else now."